Well... shit. So this is disappointing.
Here's the thing: David Fincher movies are worth getting excited about. Sure, he's had his misfires—Panic Room, that Alien 3 business—but c'mon: Seven. Zodiac. Fight Club. Scrupulous, poised, and with a masterful control of tone, you'd think he'd be the perfect director for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which the titular character ages in reverse, starting life as a blind, deaf troll and gradually growing into the charming, handsome Brad Pitt. It's equal parts fantasy and drama, and at points, you can see Fincher's hand with moments that are surreal, strange, and heart-stoppingly sad. But the rest of the film... well, the rest of the film feels a lot like Forrest Gump, complete with goofy plot devices and banal clichés.
I'm gonna lay the blame at the feet of screenwriter Eric "Ol' Schmaltzy" Roth, who (very loosely) adapts F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 short story into a shiny bit of Oscar bait. (Surprise! Back in '94, Roth wrote another film with goofy plot devices and banal clichés, that time with a moronic Tom Hanks.) Beginning with freaky geriatric baby Benjamin getting abandoned in 1918, Button follows him as he becomes a sailor, serves in WWII, and falls in love with an unpleasant girl named Daisy (Cate Blanchett). There is also an utterly superfluous modern-day framing story that (A) was clearly cobbled together from Titanic outtakes, and (B) ominously involves the impending Hurricane Katrina. (UGH.)
It seems unfair to rag on a film for being sentimental and nostalgic when it's about sentimentality and nostalgia—still, it gets wearying. Anytime Button tries to say something that doesn't feel rote, it gets overwhelmed by Alexandre Desplat's sappy score, or the fact that practically everything is filmed in sepia tones, or—my favorite!—a magical CG hummingbird that occasionally flits by to serve as a emotional exclamation point. But there is something here of note: Benjamin Button himself (excellently played by Pitt, with a melancholic loneliness and some impressive makeup and special effects) is at once loveable and unknowable, and as Fincher's goofy film swirls around him, he serves as a genuinely emotional, fascinating core. He's a fantastic character. Hopefully someday, someone will make a good movie about him.